The greatest of the kabalistic works of the Hebrews — Sohar "IHT —was compiled by Rabbi Simeon Ben-Iochai'. According to some critics, this was done years before the Christian era; according to others only after the destruction of the temple. However, it was completed only by the son of Simeon, Rabbi
Eleazar, and his secretary, Rabbi Abba; for the work is so immense and the subjects treated so abstruse that even the whole life of this Rabbi, called the Prince of kabalists, did not suffice for the task. On account of its being known that he was in possession of this knowledge, and of the Mercaba, which insured the reception of the "Word," his very life was endangered, and he had to fly to the wilderness, where he lived in a cave for twelve years, surrounded by faithful disciples, and finally died there amid signs and wonders.*
But voluminous as is the work, and containing as it does the main points of the secret and oral tradition, it still does not embrace it all. It is well known that this venerable kabalist never imparted the most important points of his doctrine otherwise than orally, and to a very limited number of friends and disciples, including his only son. Therefore, without the final initiation into the Mercaba the study of the Kabala will be ever incomplete, and the Mercaba can be taught only in
* Many are the marvels recorded as having taken place at his death, or we should rather say his translation; for he did not die as others do, but having suddenly disappeared, while a dazzling light filled the cavern with glory, his body was again seen upon its subsidence. When this heavenly light gave place to the habitual semi-darkness of the gloomy cave — then only, says Ginsburg "the disciples of Israel perceived that the lamp of Israel was extinguished." His biographers tell us that there were voices heard from Heaven during the preparation for his funeral and at his interment. When the coffin was lowered down into the deep cave excavated for it, a flame broke out from it, and a voice mighty and majestic pronounced these words in the air: "This is he who caused the earth to quake, and the kingdoms to shake!"
"darkness, in a deserted place, and after many and terrific trials." Since the death of Simeon Ben-Iochai this hidden doctrine has remained an inviolate secret for the outside world. Delivered only as a mystery, it was communicated to the candidate orally, "face to face and mouth to ear."
This Masonic commandment, "mouth to ear, and the word at low breath," is an inheritance from the Tanaim and the old Pagan Mysteries. Its modern use must certainly be due to the indiscretion of some renegade kabalist, though the "word" itself is but a "substitute" for the "lost word," and is a comparatively modern invention, as we will further show. The real sentence has remained forever in the sole possession of the adepts of various countries of the Eastern and Western hemispheres. Only a limited number among the chiefs of the Templars, and some Rosicrucians of the seventeenth century, always in close relations with Arabian alchemists and initiates, could really boast of its possession. From the seventh to the fifteenth centuries there was no one who could claim it in Europe; and although there had been alchemists before the days of Paracelsus, he was the first who had passed through the true initiation, that last ceremony which conferred on the adept the power of travelling toward the "burning bush" over the holy ground, and to "burn the golden calf in the fire, grind it to powder, and strow it upon the water." Verily, then, this magic water, and the "lost word," resuscitated more than one of the pre-Mosaic Adonirams, Gedaliahs, and Hiram Abiffs. The real word now substituted by Mac Benac and Mah was used ages before its pseudo-
magical effect was tried on the "widow's sons" of the last two centuries. Who was, in fact, the first operative Mason of any consequence? Elias Ashmole, the last of the Rosicrucians and alchemists. Admitted to the freedom of the Operative Masons' Company in London, in 1646, he died in 1692. At that time Masonry was not what it became later; it was neither a political nor a Christian institution, but a true secret organization, which admitted into the ties of fellowship all men anxious to obtain the priceless boon of liberty of conscience, and avoid clerical persecution.* Not until about thirty years after his death did what is now termed modern Freemasonry see the light. It was born on the 24th day of June, 1717, in the Apple-tree Tavern, Charles Street, Covent Garden, London. And it was then, as we are told in Anderson's Constitutions, that the only four lodges in the south of England elected Anthony Sayer first Grand Master of Masons. Notwithstanding its great youth, this grand lodge has ever claimed the acknowledgment of its supremacy by the whole body of the fraternity throughout the whole world, as the Latin inscription on the plate put beneath the cornerstone of Freemasons' Hall, London, in 1775, would tell to those who could see it. But of this more anon.
In Die Kabbala, by Franck, the author, following its "esoteric ravings," as he expresses it, gives us, in addition to the translations, his commentaries. Speaking of his predecessors, he says that Simeon Ben-Iochai mentions
* Plot, "Natural History of Staffordshire." Published in 1666.
repeatedly what the "companions" have taught in the older works. And the author cites one "Ieba, the old, and Hamnuna, the old." t But what the two "old" ones mean, or who they were, in fact, he tells us not, for he does not know himself.
Among the venerable sect of the Tanaim, or rather the Tananim, the wise men, there were those who taught the secrets practically and initiated some disciples into the grand and final Mystery. But the Mishna Hagiga, 2d section, say that the table of contents of the Mercaba "must only be delivered to wise old ones."} The Gemara is still more dogmatic. "The more important secrets of the Mysteries were not even revealed to all priests. Alone the initiates had them divulged." And so we find the same great secresy prevalent in every ancient religion.
But, as we see, neither the Sohar nor any other kabalistic volume contains merely Jewish wisdom. The doctrine itself being the result of whole millenniums of thought, is therefore the joint property of adepts of every nation under the sun. Nevertheless, the Sohar teaches practical occultism more than any other work on that subject; not as it is translated though, and commented upon by its various critics, but with the secret signs on its margins. These signs contain the hidden instructions, apart from the metaphysical interpretations and apparent absurdities so fully credited by Josephus, who was never initiated, and gave out the dead letter as he had received it.*
The real practical magic contained in the Sohar and other kabalistic works, is only of use to those who read it within. The Christian apostles — at least, those who are said to have produced "miracles" at willf— had to be acquainted with this science. It ill-behooves a Christian to look with horror or derision upon "magic" gems, amulets, and other talismans against the "evil eye," which serve as charms to exercise a mysterious influence, either on the possessor, or the person whom the magician desires to control. There are still extant a number of such charmed amulets in public and private collections of antiquities. Illustrations of convex gems, with mysterious legends — the meaning of which baffles all scientific inquiry — are given by many collectors. King shows several such in his Gnostics, and he describes a white carnelian (chalcedony), covered on both sides with interminable legends, to interpret which would ever prove a failure; yes, in every case, perhaps, but that of a Hermetic
* He relates how Rabbi Eleazar, in the presence of Vespasian and his officers, expelled demons from several men by merely applying to the nose of the demoniac one of the number of roots recommended by King Solomon! The distinguished historian assures us that the Rabbi drew out the devils through the nostrils of the patients in the name of Solomon and by the power of the incantations composed by the kingkabalist. Josephus, "Antiquities," VIII., ii., 5.
f There are unconscious miracles produced sometimes, which, like the phenomena now called "Spiritual," are caused through natural cosmic powers, mesmerism, electricity, and the invisible beings who are always at work around us, whether they be human or elementary spirits.
student or an adept. But we refer the reader to his interesting work, and the talismans described in his plates, to show that even the "Seer of Patmos" himself was well-versed in this kabalistic science of talismans and gems. St. John clearly alludes to the potent "white carnelian" — a gem well-known among adepts, as the "alba petra," or the stone of initiation, on which the word "prize" is generally found engraved, as it was given to the candidate who had successfully passed through all the preliminary trials of a neophyte. The fact is, that no less than the Book of Job, the whole Revelation, is simply an allegorical narrative of the Mysteries and initiation therein of a candidate, who is John himself. No high Mason, well versed in the different degrees, can fail to see it. The numbers seven, twelve, and others are all so many lights thrown over the obscurity of the work. Paracelsus maintained the same some centuries ago. And when we find the "one like unto the Son of man" saying (chap. ii. 17): "To him that overcometh, will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a White Stone, and in the stone a new name written" — the word — which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it, what Master Mason can doubt but it refers to the last head-line of this chapter?
In the pre-Christian Mithraic Mysteries, the candidate who fearlessly overcame the "twelve Tortures," which preceded the final initiation, received a small round cake or wafer of unleavened bread, symbolizing, in one of its meanings, the solar disk and known as the heavenly bread or "manna," and having figures traced on it. A lamb, or a bull was killed, and with the blood the candidate had to be sprinkled, as in the case of the Emperor Julian's initiation. The seven rules or mysteries were then delivered to the "newly-born" that are represented in the Revelation as the seven seals which are opened "in order" (see chap. v. and vi.). There can be no doubt that the Seer of Patmos referred to this ceremony.
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